Nashville Salons Are Starting To Green Up, As Hair Recycling Becomes A Thing – WPLN

In an industry dedicated to beautifying, hair salons have been unwittingly degrading the environment.

Chemicals are poured down the drain and enter the water supply, and waste bins are filled to the brim with bottles and tubes of hair products and foils, which end up in a landfill.

Now, two hair salons in Nashville have been cutting waste through a program by Green Circle Salons, a young company in Toronto that is attempting to help the industry reduce waste almost completely.

“I’ve owned a salon for 13 years and I’ve always felt a little guilty about all of the gross waste that comes from a salon,” says Fruition Salon owner Heather McCollum. The salon is the first in Tennessee to be certified-sustainable.

Hair Booms? Yes, Indeed

That means along with recycling hair foils, chemicals, bottles and tubes, they are also recycling hair clippings that fall on the floor after hair cuts.

“I know it sounds really gross and weird to be recycling hair, but it’s really amazing that we can something so simple and help save the planet,” says McCollum.

Blonde and brown and red and gray pieces, straggly dead ends and casualties of new styles, lie together in the hair bin, completely lifeless.

The hair is boxed up and sent to a warehouse in Chicago. Papers and bobby pins are removed, and the hair is left to dry in repurposed burlap coffee sacks. Then, it is stored in boxes.

The little hair clippings add up. “We get three tons of hair into our warehouse every month,” says Green Circle’s Jennifer Henry. “It is a mountain of hair.”

Should an oil spill occur, Green Circle is ready to donate the hair clippings for clean up. After the BP oil spill in 2010, the company sent all the hair they had collected in their first year in business. Volunteers on the ground stuffed the hair into pantyhose.

“It’s remarkable to watch,” Henry says. “You push it around on the surface for a minute or two – and everything that’s around it automatically clings to the hair. It just disappears, it absorbs, goes right in.”

Currently, hair booms are not commonly used to clean up oil spills, though Henry says she hopes they will become widely accepted because they work better than synthetic booms.

“If you imagine what happens to an animal in an oil spill, you see its fur or its feathers just get coated in oil,” Henry says. “What we know is that human hair has the exact same properties. Hair is incredibly absorbent, and human hair wants oil. It’s just the natural property of the fiber.”

High-Performance Hair

Meanwhile, Green Circle continues to search for more ways to reuse hair clippings.

Justin Barone, an assistant professor in the Renewable Materials Laboratory at Virginia Tech, is working on using the hair as a raw material in plastic. He made a media splash using chicken feathers to replace some of the oil in plastic, and he says human hair works just as well. Using 80 percent traditional plastic and 20 percent human hair, he is making a recycling bin.

“Hair is a very high-performance material,” Barone says. “Keratin-based materials are always on the outside of organisms. They make up hair and feathers and horn and hooves and fingernails. It is a very, very strong and tough material, and so if you can collect it in some way and use it, you will end up with a very good plastic material.”

Other researchers are looking into felted hair mats that may be useful in water filtration.

Reusing hair clippings is not totally new. At Pure Organic Salon in Marathon Village, the second in the city to be certified-sustainable, Dorinda Lee is one of several customers who ask for a goody bag of hair clippings. She’d like to prevent a repeat of last year, when wildlife helped themselves to her cantaloupes.

“I’ve gardened for years and I’ve heard before that human hair can really repel some of the little critters so I thought, why not try it?” Lee says.

Even if human hair fails her as a garden pesticide, Lee says she likes knowing that when she gets her hair done she’s doing something good for the planet. “It’s a big deal to me that it’s as environmentally friendly and alert and aware as they are. It’s a biggie.”

But the efforts by salons are not free: To pay for shipping and storing the hair, as well as recycling foils, chemicals, tubes and aerosols, salons tack on a $2 eco-fee to each bill. Salon owners say customers aren’t complaining. On the contrary, they seem delighted that their trimmings can be put to good use.

Hair from Nashville’s well-coiffed could be incorporated into plastic recycling bins by summer — or after the next major oil spill, cleaning the coastline.